Sunday, 5 April 2015

Fresh Air, Fools and Formulaic Films

The word of the week is prosaic.

March 30 – Social and Storage!

My writing group’s really going strong this year.

That, despite not having a nicer home( no thanks to you, Tektoria )to house us. All the same, tonight was pretty decent: we had a ‘Sub-Group Social’ which had almost two dozen people show up, to chat the night away. I spent my time moving from cluster to cluster, chatting people up about the craft and my varied interests, as they coincided with those of other writers.

Quite a happy way to while away an evening, even sans aperitifs or bubbly beverages.

More good news: I have a spot to store my loaner bike now!

My building manager found me a storage unit on the main floor, all to myself to put my bike in. I’ve ordered a new lock( and cable )to use, seeing as my last one left with the old bike. It’s the best you can get and I managed to find it for an almost-acceptable price:

Lesson 1: Lock your lock to something VERY solid, unlike this guy...

For the last two weeks, I’ve looked at dozens of reviews online and narrowed my choices to a few U-locks, after deciding that any chain locks worth buying were too heavy( 10+ lbs )to carry around. While no lock will protect a bike against every theft attempt( grinders, bottle jacks, leverage, freezing and other methods are all effective, if a thief is given enough time undisturbed )I don’t plan on leaving my on-loan bike anywhere out of sight( or the public eye )during the day, and stored at night inside. Given those parameters, a super-solid U-lock seemed like the best choice overall, as long as I follow good bike-locking practices.

My choice was the New York Fahgettaboudit 3000 lock, as tough a lock as you can get. It's got a double-locking shaft, is insanely well-built( 5 lbs! )and when combined with a cable lock( and perhaps another smaller U-lock for good measure )I will feel confident about leaving my bike outside during the day for a few hours in well-traveled areas.

Beyond that, I can't do much more, unless I just walk everywhere instead. No thanks.

March 31 – Nerf Guide?

On a fun note, I discovered a Nerf Gun Guide today!

I’ll admit I haven’t cared much about Nerf for decades, despite their coming out with some intriguing designs over the years. Not having played run-and-gun since my early high-school days ( and that with Lazer Tag! )it seemed pointless, especially as I don’t have the cash to lay into Airsoft or Paintball – nor the local friends to game with, come to think of it.

Actually, that may be why Nerf’s still on my radar: it’s fairly cheap, or at least it used to be… some of the designs listed are rather pricey, but then I’d probably just go for the belt-fed ones.

Nothing says fun like a hail of dozens of Nerf-darts, to my inner child’s mind.

It wasn’t fun though, when I tried to watch Divergent tonight, and failed miserably.

Truth be told, I really did try to get into the film, but it’s slavish YA formula meant that too much time was spent talking and too little time exploring the world being presented, which annoyed me no end. You have a story set in a future after some kind of world-destroying war, a giant wall of king-sized hair curlers surrounding the half-ruined future city of Chicago and all we get to hear about is how the Faction System is Bad? Or how the heroine pines for the rebellious likable guy?

Wasted opportunities all over the place.

Halfway through the film, I gave up and watched it on fast-forward, making up my own dialogue as I went along. I can summarize thusly, without too many spoilers for those who haven’t seen it:

  • There’s talking. Endless talking back and forth about topics that could easily be summed up with a lot less lip-waving
  • Lots of injections get made into people’s necks, for no good reason
  • People run around all over the place, sometimes making other people run too
  • Did I mention talking? There’s a lot of wistful eye-staring going on too.
  • We get to see lots of beauty shots of the half-ruined future city that nobody’s fixed.

I can’t say I want to revisit this world, despite the intriguing premises it presents. There’s just not enough going on to make me care about what happens to its inhabitants, all of whom I think need to pick up some repair tools and get to work fixing their world, instead of talking about how to do it.

April 1 – Clean Air, No Fooling?

It’s only taken a few decades, but progress is being made, starting here in Victoria.

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, take note: smoking’s become a lot harder to do in public, here on the Island. About time, too.

Having worked for almost a year in a scent-free workplace, I can appreciate even more than ever the right of the individual to have smell-free air to inhale on a regular basis. More than that, my own sense of smell( never all that great, mind you )has become sharper, at least in detecting rather malodorous smells on the wind – like cigarette smoke.

Now that the ‘boundaries’ if you will, have been pushed back even further, I feel the tide is turning. I’m not one to impose huge restrictions on people’s freedoms; if you’re a smoker, by all means, light up and puff away, in the hope that one of the hundreds of related maladies claim your life later rather than sooner.

But roll the dice elsewhere; I don’t want to breathe in your second-hand cloud of death.

It’s bad enough that I have had to hold my breath for the last two years every time I enter or leave my apartment, thanks to my neighbor – who’s a nice guy, I might add. Or that I zig-zag on the sidewalks around town to avoid man-made migraine-triggering clouds; don’t I get to enjoy the fresh outdoors too, or do I have to wait for the wind to clear the residue of a freedom-loving pack-a-day stroller before I can take a deep breath?

I’m all for the new bylaw here, as unenforceable as it is, for I acknowledge the spirit behind it: that clean air should come first for all, and those who are enslaved to a habit that will kill them slowly, should do so without harming those who choose health over hazard.

Deep breaths, one at a time, while waiting for some folk to admit that their habit’s killing us all.

April 2 – Jumping at Shadows

I mentioned habits above, knowing that they’re hard to admit, and harder to break.

Some habits aren’t health hazards, but rather amusing. Case in point: shadows.

It’s weird, but I can’t stop jumping at my own shadow, on occasion.

Walking along at night, it’s the streetlights, you see: they cast an extra shadow that sometimes gets me. From the light behind me, that is, as I’m walking.

Sure, it’s silly, but more often than not, I see my own shadow grow a few steps after I pass the light, and I have to check that it’s not someone creeping up on me.

So far: shadows = 1,000 counts, stealthy ninjas = 0. But then you never SEE ninjas, right?

I find it funny every time, and it doesn’t happen every time I pass a light, either. Usually when I’m distracted or worried about something else, is when I jump at the Creeping Shadow. All the more odd living here in Victoria, one of the least likely places to get jumped on a quiet, well-lit suburban street – not downtown either, where there’s lots of lights and traffic happening. I can’t pinpoint when it started happening, but it’s been going on for a while and I’ve only recently noticed my behavior.

Perhaps it’s related to Groundhog Day?

April 3 – Bye-Bye to the Future( Shop )

Another tech chain bites the dust: see ya, Future Shop.

Not that I’ve been a regular shopper there, in recent years; not even a regular browser. Sure, my TV’s came from there, but I’ve long since paid them off and cut up the card. Only the rarest of good deals could spark my interest in buying there and the last of those was years ago.

I’m more intrigued by the closing itself and what it means for the tech business in Canada

Having worked at Staples, I’ve seen first-hand how retail shoppers are changing their habits.
Shopping has changed in the last ten years, especially with technology. Online shopping is my norm now, checking various sites for deals on things I need – and as I mentioned last week, I don’t really need all that much, any more. However, people still come into retailers looking for advice, to find CSR’s they trust and to kick the tires, as it goes.

Times are a-changing, all over the place, though.

My first Future Shop store experience was amusing, back in the 90’s. I walked in the doors, only to immediately be latched upon by a fresh-faced sales tech, eager to Sell Me Stuff. To her vast disappointment, I answered all of her ‘Do you Have This?’ questions with Yeses, as I’d only that month purchased a then-top-of-the-line Pentium computer system. I can still picture her crestfallen face( sorry! )when I finished listing all the Stuff I Already Had and she wandered away to another customer while I went to look at game software, which I didn’t end up buying.

Too expensive; I found it cheaper elsewhere.

Ironically, that mantra still rang true for me the last time I went to Future Shop: Neat Stuff, but Too Costly – I could find it cheaper elsewhere, even with shipping. I’m not a browser, either, prone to impulse buys or sales-talk: I know what I need, then I go and get it. Lessons learned, y’know.

I hope that the retail staff unexpectedly laid off last week are able to find comparable jobs, just as their predecessors from the 2013 Best Buy closures did - getting a no-notice boot like that sucks.

As for me, I’ll keep shopping online and enjoy not having to haul anything home on a bike, ever again. Ten years from now, my orders may be delivered by drone to my local pickup-shop or by a last-mile delivery company of my choosing – those that I’m not 3D-printing, that is.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how the retail landscape develops. 

April 4 – Neo and Peter Parker!

Yesterday was the first day of my four-day weekend writing sabbatical, and I spent the majority of it fighting a migraine while watching TV. Such are the foibles… but I realized today that it was exactly what I needed.

The TV, not the migraine.

For what was playing all day long but The Matrix trilogy? The first movie drew me in and kept me, the second I hadn’t seen in a long time( and found a little dull )and the third I didn’t bother with. No, I definitely needed to see the first, because of the storyline:

It kept me interested, because it maintained a mystery and delivered Big Questions about Life.

The Matrix is one of the few films that always sticks with me for a long while after I’ve watched it, challenging the assumptions I make in taking my reality for granted. Of letting the habits I’ve developed become my life, instead of seeking change and building myself beyond what I am now.

Today, as I still fought my migraine, I watched another seminal film playing all day on TV: Spiderman 2. Oddly enough, the second film is the best of the trilogy, one in which we experience first hand the terrible choices a hero has to make in balancing their personal life with the public. Spiderman 2 shows us those choices – and their consequences – better than almost any other comic-book film I can think of, in a believable way that, at the end, shows us how villains can be redeemed and how our choices aren’t entirely our own, as our lives are inevitable entwined with others whom we love and care for.

Their choices are ours, as well.

I needed to see both those films this weekend, several times, to internalize some very solid truths that they conveyed – my writing is at a stage where I need to face the truths that my characters are facing, to inform the directions that their plotlines will take and affect the entire novel’s path.

Even with a splitting headache, my thoughts were clear and I’m grateful for Providence providing the films at the right time for my Muse to digest. Lots of mental chewing going on this weekend…

All the same, I’m keeping the Tylenol close at hand.

April 5 – Finding Voices

I did get some writing done today, albeit not a ton, considering this was supposed to be a four-day weekend writing sabbatical. I hadn’t counted on the double-whammy of Tired and Headache…

Still, progress is progress and anything that’s measurable counts, even if it’s not in job lots. On days like today, when my Muse is holding the door shut from the other side while I jiggle the knob and mutter epithets under my breath, a writer has to look outside oneself for balance. In particular, I have been wondering if my books have been told in the right voice, or style, for the story.

As fate would have it, I recently started following David Gerrold on Fbook and this very morning, he posted this on finding one’s voice( here's a snippet ):

But I'm talking about style here. Later on, I realized something about style that was even more important than rhythmic constructions. Forget the word "style" -- it's a trap. Instead, think voice. It's not the style of the book that you want to find, it's the voice of the character, the voice of the world he/she lives in.
Heinlein's stories all have a unique voice, so do Jack Vance's. And Harlan Ellison's. And Terry Pratchett. That's their normal writing voice. It's the same voice across the entire body of work. But there's another way to approach writing -- approach it like acting. Like Alec Guiness disappearing into each role so completely he's almost unrecognizable from one movie to the next. Each story demands its own separate specific unique voice.

It’s funny how some things elude you no matter how hard you look, while at other times exactly what you need rings the doorbell just as you start to flop your head in your hands. I was thrilled to read David’s words today and found myself nodding along with the rest of his post, amused and alleviated that my internal tension about my books could be so simply assuaged.

That’s the power of words, folks. A lesson worth remembering.

Oi, my head’s feeling somewhat more normal tonight. Whatever tension I was carrying from the week spilled over into a headache that took far too long to get under control and even now, my shoulders are aching despite liberal applications of vibrational massage and rest. All the same, I feel like I’ve done some serious thinking / novel plotting this weekend, so it’s not a total wash. I also still have tomorrow off( Easter Monday is a government holiday! )so I can get some more work done. Piece by piece, I’m going to finish Book 2 so I can get to Book 3… ‘cuz that’s how it’s done.